Popular and hard-working List 1 judge Mark Ruddock explains the cost and stress involved in being a judge, and when you read this you will understand why he says he often feels ‘harassed’.

“JUDGING is where I can put something back into the sport and I believe more riders should do it. I don’t think many of them realise how much effort, time and expense are involved in becoming and continuing to be a judge — or how tough the job is either.

“I’m a competitive rider and a trainer as well as a judge, so I see issues from all three angles”

“Judges are no longer the ladies of leisure who ‘lunch’. The sport has evolved. Judges are often people who have clients to train and businesses to run. Professional standards are expected of judges, but their training is unpaid time. You attend training to qualify initially — and train some more if you want to progress to a higher list. You also have to attend a compulsory training seminar every two years — and now a compulsory freestyle seminar. As well as loss of earnings, you pay your own expenses attending a training session and that can include a long journey.

“Try to imagine the level of effort required to maintain concentration on every movement in every five to six minute-long test and get the mark right when you have a four-hour-long class — even longer at regionals. At the Keysoe Premier League this year, over four different classes, I judged for 12 hours — 9am to 9pm. And you try to be as fair to the last competitor you see as to the first.

No rider gets up in the morning intending to ride a bad test — and no judge gets up and thinks, ‘I’m going to be horrible today’

“There are rules and regulations, or guidelines, set for our judging periods. Show organisers are supposed to allow judges’ breaks every 10 horses, so that we can get out of the box and refresh the brain, eat or visit the lavatory. But show organisers have to pay their judges mileage (45p/mile) — and hotel expenses if they’re away from home. They are running a business so they work judges hard — and, of course, they have to pay you! The rate is £1 per horse in each national test class and £2 for each horse in an FEI class.

Judges have a responsibility towards the competitors to do a good, fair job — but equally, shows have a responsibility to riders to ensure that the judges don’t get so fatigued that they are unable to give each and every one the same quality of assessment.

“Nowadays, if there is a 7% (FEI 5%) difference in the marks awarded among a panel of judges, we have to stay on after the class to discuss why this happened and this has to be recorded on the correct form and sent to BD. This gives the judge an extra task of making notes alongside judging the movements. Quite often, differences arise because judges are sitting at different positions around the arena. Instead of looking at the differences in marks, riders should look for the consistency of the placings across the panel.

“Remember, while we are all taught to sing from the same hymn sheet, we are human beings and we all have things that gripe us and things that don’t worry us so much. I set a high value on suppleness; another judge might be more concerned about length of neck. I might overlook a bit short in the neck if the horse is supple.

My biggest intolerance, no matter how well the horse is going, is inaccurate riding. It’s sloppy and there’s no excuse for not knowing your test or not riding it accurately, whether you’re on a traditional cob or a big-moving warmblood. Dressage is not about wow factor, it’s about training.

“However, there’s more to a dressage test than technical competence: there is an aura of beauty about harmony and a happy partnership.  It inspires an emotional response that also comes into the judge’s assessment. We don’t all like the same artworks or theatrical performances and until they get robots doing the job, there will always be differences in dressage marks.

“Before I became a judge I found myself moaning about judging, but I thought, ‘instead of moaning, have a go yourself’. So you try it, or at least go and write for a judge, or sit in — and do it before you go on social media and run a judge down.”

Mark ended his discussion by saying how important the role of writer is and how much he relies on his writer’s competence to do the job well. Look out for an article being published on Out and About Dressage this coming week about what that writing job entails.

© Out and About Dressage Ltd.

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